The Hawaiian Chieftain, a replica of the tall trading ships from the 19th century, has been sold.
The vessel had fallen into disrepair and was docked at Pier 39 in Astoria while the Aberdeen, Washington, based Grays Harbor Historical Seaport searched for a buyer.
Aubrey and Matt Wilson bought the Chieftain for $150,000 and hope to return the vessel to Hawaii after a monthslong repair project in Port Townsend, Washington.
“Really, it came down to money,” said Brandi Bednarik, the business operations manager at Grays Harbor Historical Seaport. They had already spent around $300,000 on repairs for the Chieftain, she said.
“Lady Washington, our other ship, is going to need restoration over the next couple of years. We also had taken over a 34-acre abandoned mill site in Washington in 2013 that we’re redeveloping,” she said. “All three together was just too much.”
Aubrey Wilson has experience working as a deckhand on similar traditionally-rigged tall ships, and was particularly interested in the Chieftain because of its Hawaii heritage.
“It was just like fate,” she said. “We were like, ‘This is the one. Let’s buy her and bring her home.’”
Once the repairs are complete, they’ll sail the ship back to Hawaii. There, they plan to take passengers on sailing tours and provide training opportunities.
Built in 1988, the Chieftain is not unlike similar steel-hull boats at the time. One of its biggest issues, according to Bednarik, is that its hull wasn’t prepared for the amount of electrical current in the waters today. The Lady Washington was built just one year later.
“I have learned from that,” Bednarik said. “I would not have two boats the same age. Once they get over 30, they really start to need more work. It’s a typical age for a boat to really start needing that serious restoration.”
The nonprofit has owned the Chieftain since 2005. The vessel was a familiar sight in Astoria, where it was featured for tours and sailing excursions.
Repairs to the Chieftain could cost as much as $800,000 over six months to a year to replace engines, treat the hull’s electrolysis issue and address any other concerns.
“We understand many people are emotionally invested in the Chieftain’s future, and a change like this can be hard, but we hope everyone will be as excited as we are about our plans,” said Aubrey Wilson. “We’re super excited.”